Against Staggering Odds

On Aug. 25, we mark the birthday of Helen Kowalska (1905-1938), known today as St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the great apostle of Divine Mercy. Her life continues to intrigue those of us who seek to draw deeper into the mystery of God’s mercy for mankind. It’s easy to see the attraction to her. Consider the facts:

  • The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska ranks with the greatest mystical literature in Church history.
  • It was written by a young, inexperienced woman who had very little formal education.
  • She lived a quiet, obscure life in remote convents in the backwaters of Europe.
  • She had to find snippets of time to write.
  • Writing was not one of her official duties in the convent, where she worked in a series of lowly positions, including porter and kitchen aide.
  • Her writing instruments were meagre.
  • She suffered from debilitating physical pain and illness.
  • She endured the harrowing experience referred to as the Dark Night of the Soul, a crippling condition that feels like hopelessness.
  • Despite all this, she persisted in her task of serving as Jesus’ “secretary” in recording the message of Divine Mercy.
  • She filled six large notebooks with her writing.

When these circumstances and actions are compared to the final result — establishment of the Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday for the Universal Church, the worldwide embrace of her mystical writings about Divine Mercy, plus her canonization — one cannot help being fascinated with Faustina. In her battle against staggering odds, one finds inspiration and, in that, the hope to persist in one’s own struggles.

Here at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, we have spoken to countless pilgrims who have a devotion to St. Faustina, and that’s what most of them say: They talk of how she serves as a beacon of hope in their own lives for the way she used her modest skill set to allow God to shine through her.

People who learn of St. Faustina’s difficulties identify with them, particularly her doubts about her ability to carry out what she discerned God was asking her to do. In her Diary, she expresses her frustrations. For instance, she writes:

My Jesus, You see that I do not know how to write well and, on top of that, I don’t even have a good pen. And often it scratches so badly that I must put sentences together, letter by letter. And that is not all. I also have the difficulty of keeping secret from the sisters the things I write down, and so I often have to shut my notebook every few minutes and listen patiently to someone’s story, and then the time set aside for writing is gone. And when I shut the notebook suddenly, the ink smears. I write with the permission of my superiors and at the command of my confessor. It is a strange thing: sometimes the writing goes quite well, but at other times, I can hardly read it myself. (839)

“At first, St. Faustina tried to escape this role as God’s secretary for Divine Mercy,” said the late Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the life of Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy. “First of all, she felt completely overwhelmed. Next, she felt completely ill equipped to do what Jesus was asking her to do. She didn’t think she could write, and then, at another time, she wondered in all seriousness, ‘What if I write too much?’ [Diary, 1605]. She was afraid of exhausting the topic and also of being repetitive.”

Jesus often sought to soothe her feelings of inadequacy. At one point He put it all into proper perspective, telling her, “Your task is to write down everything that I make known to you about My mercy, for the benefit of those who by reading these things will be comforted in their souls and will have the courage to approach Me” (1693).

Faustina grew to understand that her mission could only be accomplished through her complete trust in Jesus and His mercy. She even recorded in her Diary on one occasion, “I nestled close to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with so much trust that even if I had the sins of all the damned weighing on my conscience, I would not have doubted God’s mercy” (1318).

Through St. Faustina, the world has come to learn of the Lord’s urgent message of hope and peace for the world in our time. Through St. Faustina, God has called each of us in unique ways to live a spiritual life; to have resolute faith; to turn from sin; receive His mercy; and share that mercy with others.

Thanks to St. Faustina and her Diary, we have a blueprint for living fully realized Christian lives.

Saint Faustina, help us to draw our joy and strength through the Merciful Lord. Help us to discover ways in which we can serve God and serve our friends, family, and community. Help us to become saints!  

Happy birthday, St. Faustina! And thank you!

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Let me say that again.

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